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Cheryl Pruitt

Former Gary School Superintendent Cheryl Pruitt

A white ex-Gary school district official is suing the predominantly black Gary Community School Corp. in federal court, alleging racial and gender discrimination.

The U.S. District Court suit, filed in March, states Marianne Fidishin joined the Gary school district in 2012 as executive director of special education and student services and later assumed responsibility for supervising the district’s transportation and security services.

She was recruited by ex-superintendent Cheryl Pruitt, with whom she previously worked with at an Illinois school district, the suit states.

The alleged discrimination began shortly after she returned home from a California education conference she attended with Pruitt, whom was recently arrested amid accusations she double billing the school district for expenses during that May 2016 conference, including spa treatments, dry cleaning and hotel stays.

Fidishin reportedly “met or exceeded GCSC’s legitimate job performance expectations,” and yet shortly after returning from Los Angeles, Fidishin received a text message from Pruitt describing Fidishin as “arrogant,” stating that she had an “unprofessional attitude,” the suit claims.

“Fidishin was surprised by Pruitt's text because she had always enjoyed what she believed to be a good relationship with Pruitt, both at GCSC, and at the Illinois district where they had previously worked together. Fidishin had previously received good performance evaluations, and had never been told she was ‘unprofessional,’ or that she was not performing her duties as required and expected,” the suit states.

Fidishin was the only white individual employed in GCSC's central administrative office, the suit states.

Tracy Coleman, attorney for Gary schools, filed a motion to dismiss July 5, arguing Fidishin’s claim is not evidence of a hostile work environment or racial/gender discrimination.

On July 25, 2016, Pruitt removed Fidishin from her supervisory duties for transportation and security and replaced her with a black employee who was a former building administrator and had previously been removed from that position because of a lack of supervisory ability and a voided administrator’s license, the suit states.

Suffering from anxiety and depression, Fidishin took a leave of absence from work as a result of Pruitt’s unexpected and unwarranted hostility and disparagement, the suit alleges.

Upon her return in October 2016, her supervision and management role over the English as a second language program was taken away and given to another administrator on special assignment and she learned her new boss was assistant superintendent Cordia Moore, not Pruitt.

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Moore is accused of belittling Fidishin in front of the entire district leadership team on Nov. 8, 2016.

The following day, Fidishin was instructed to be physically present in the office from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., and otherwise use sick leave and personal time. Fidishin was also ordered to inform Moore’s secretary every time she left the building and provide professional development requests in advance that included a narrative explaining why she needed to attend an event, the suit states.

These requirements were not communicated to other administrators, the suit states.

In December of that same year, Fidishin learned her contract would not be renewed based on allegations of poor job performance, inadequate leadership and inability to follow board policy and failure to file timely reports, the suit states.

Those allegations were part of a plan to retaliate against Fidishin for using the Family Medical Leave Act during her absence and filing an employment discrimination complaint against the district, the suit claims. 

Fidishin resigned Jan. 4, 2017.

Pruitt is accused of also repeatedly delaying repayment of $7,500 to Fidishin in expense reimbursements from 2015 and has, in fact, not reimbursed her as of the suit’s filing.

She is seeking a jury trial and $50,000, alleging the terms and conditions of her employment were “less favorable” than those afforded to similarly situated black co-workers, the suit states.

In seeking a motion to dismiss, Coleman argued the district is not liable for any alleged misconducted against Fidishin and that it was Fidishin's choice to resign. 

The case remains pending.

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Northlake County Reporter

Lauren covers North Lake County government, breaking news, crime and environmental issues for The Times. She previously worked at The Herald-News in Joliet. She holds a master’s degree in Public Affairs Reporting.